(The following is taken from the e-book, “How To Find Peace With God (Answers From The Book About Salvation).” If you missed the first part of this series, please Click Here. If you would like to receive the entire e-book (in PDF format), please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Committing To The Lord
“…Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19c)
A young man fell deeply in love with a young woman. He cared for her very much and his love and passion led him to work tirelessly in order to provide a secure future for her. The day finally came when the man asked for her hand in marriage and, to his great delight, she accepted his proposal. With tears in her eyes and a joyful smile brightening her face, the woman expressed her feelings toward the man, her enthusiasm for the life they would share together nearly overpowering her ability to speak, her voice cracking, her heart pounding, as the emotion overwhelmed her.
The man and his bride were surrounded by their closest friends on the day of the wedding and the ceremony was lauded by all in attendance, the tremendous love shared between the couple filling the atmosphere in and around the altar, overflowing into the sanctuary and lighting upon the guests, stirring every heart with jubilation. The vows were exchanged, the union pronounced, the kiss was shared. Music filled the church and applause erupted at the wedding’s conclusion as the newly joined couple, filled with exultation, made their way to the building’s exit, eager to commence their new life together.
As they made their way to the waiting limousine, the vehicle that had been arranged to whisk the happy pair away to their honeymoon, the bride stopped a few steps away from the car’s back door, now held open by the chauffeur. Turning to her new husband, the woman looked into the man’s eyes and said, “I love you with all my heart and am so grateful that you love me enough to do everything you have done to provide a wonderful life for us, but I am going to go back to my own home now. I am glad that we are married, but I would like to just go on living my life the way I have been living it before we ever met. When I am old, after I have experienced all the things this world has to offer, I will be ready to settle down and live with you. If anyone ever asks, I will make sure to let them know that you are my husband, but I would like to go on dating other men in the meantime; I don’t want to miss out on anything.”
Obviously, this scenario is completely absurd. Would the husband (or anyone else) really take the woman’s devotion to him seriously? Even so, there are countless people who have entered into just such an arrangement with the Lord Jesus Christ. They may not be as candid as the woman in this illustration, honestly expressing their intentions to the Lord as she did to her new husband, but the end result is identical. They accept the “proposal”, make some vows, enter into a relationship, and then proceed to live their lives as if nothing has changed whatsoever.
Somehow, many people have gotten the idea that being a Christian is all about saying a few words, going through some sort of ceremony, and maybe attending a church. The proverbial altar call is seen as the totality of what a commitment to Christ involves. As long as a person can point to a certain instance in their life when they came to the front of a sanctuary, mouthed a few words, maybe cried a few tears or hugged and shook hands with some church leaders welcoming them to the family of God, then their status with God and eternal destiny are forever sealed. That God might expect a more sincere and tangible commitment from them is incomprehensible.
While an initial decision to follow Christ is a very crucial part of our relationship with Him, it is no more the entirety of the Christian life than a wedding ceremony comprises an entire marriage. That moment in time when we first come into relationship with the Lord, when we answer His calling, surrendering our rebellious hearts to the God Who loves us, is a door through which we enter, a threshold over which we cross leading us into a changed life, a life where everything becomes new (2 Cor. 5:17).
Salvation is not about something we say, but Someone we trust. Christianity is not about reciting a few lines, or repeating a prayer, it is about a relationship. It is about a genuine faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Being saved comes by believing on Him, not by going through certain motions in front of a church congregation and proceeding to live however we choose.
How Much Can I Get Away With?
I once saw the question: “How Much Can I Get Away With And Still Go To Heaven?” written across the front of a little boy’s t-shirt. While such a motto might be cute when applied to a rambunctious toddler, it is completely and utterly nauseating when applied to an adult claiming to be a follower of Christ. Nevertheless, this exact approach to life is practiced by countless people who claim to belong to Christ everyday. They aren’t wearing t-shirts or adorning their cars with bumper stickers that so bluntly and honestly reveal their philosophy, but their actions and attitudes declare it to be so. Though they profess a devotion to the Lord, their lifestyle belies their words.
The opinion prevalent in many churches is that all God really expects from a person is the recitation of certain high and noble sounding platitudes, a “prayer” dictated by someone else, followed, perhaps, by membership in that particular church and a precise adherence to a certain preferred method of Baptism. The most devout and “sincere” Christians are not those who demonstrate the most Christ-like behavior, bearing the fruit that our Lord said would be present in the lives of those who follow Him (John 15:1-8), but those who maintain the highest profile in the congregation, those who are the most outspoken and prominent, with the most frequent attendance at services and, of course, those who give the most monetarily.
That there is any expectation of a change in a Christian’s attitude and behavior has become so far removed from the typical denomination’s doctrine that any call to holy living is seldom even mentioned. Oh, the preacher might deliver an occasional sermon that ever-so-slightly touches upon the idea that the believer ought to be more diligent in ridding sin from their life, advice that is received with a nod of the head and given with a wink of the eye. But a genuine admonition to let the Spirit of God cleanse us from all that offends Him is almost completely absent from most pulpits.
Christ is preached, not as our Lord and God to Whom we owe our obedience and allegiance, but as Someone Who can improve our quality of life and smooth out the path we ourselves have chosen to walk on. The concept that the Lord Jesus would call for us to change our lifestyle when we come to Him, walking on a new path altogether, is a topic seldom broached. Sin is rarely really dealt with and holy living is scarcely seriously advocated. Warnings that God judges sin and that even the believer faces certain consequences for their iniquities have almost become taboo topics in the Church.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)
It has been observed that the problem for most Christians is not that they continue in sin so that grace may abound, but because grace does abound. We have stressed the mercy and grace of God in our teachings to the point that the judgment and justice of God is largely ignored. In an effort to throw off the chains of legalism from our parishioners, freeing them from the burden of attempting to earn their Salvation through strict obedience of God’s Commandments, we have unwittingly given the impression that licentiousness is condoned.
Make no mistake, as we have already discussed at length: Salvation comes by the grace of God, NOT the works of man! But this does not mean that the Christian is free to pursue sin with reckless abandon, secure in their Salvation, living as they please. Just because deliverance from an eternity separated from God has been freely given to us, this in no way alleviates our responsibility to follow our Lord and obey His commands. Jesus said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And what are the Lord’s commandments?
“…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
When a person is in Christ, their walk with Him is not about keeping a set of rules and regulations; it is about obeying Him because they love Him. We obey our Lord, not because we must obey Him in order to be saved, but because we love Him and want to please Him. This distinction makes all the difference in the world. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and we obey Him out of our loving gratitude for what He has done for us.
The Test Of Our Obedience
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-4)
Being saved means that we are trusting Christ; trusting Christ means that we are obeying Him. John writes in the above verses that this is a litmus test for anyone who claims to know Christ: do they obey Him? Obedience of God is not a requirement for Salvation, but it sure seems to be an indicator of Salvation. Anyone who claims to be in Christ, yet does not at least possess the earnest desire to obey Him, is only fooling themselves.
We do not change our lives in order to come to Christ, but a life unchanged is not a life that has been touched by Christ. No one who has genuinely received Jesus as Lord can ever remain as they were before. If we are trusting in Him, He will make us into different people, people who mature in faith and devotion to God, people who seek to obey Him, ever-growing in our desire to rid our lives of all which offends Him.
Will we always be successful? No. Real life experience agrees with the words of the Apostle John when he says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). As long as we live on this Earth we will continue to sin at times. Our flesh which cannot be subject to the things of God will abide with us until we leave this life. But our attitude toward sin changes when we come to Christ, we now have the desire to no longer commit it.
Before we knew God, we sinned with impunity, knowing little about the consequences of our sins and caring even less. The person who does not know God is not bothered that his actions offend his Creator, he does not feel the sting of guilt nor the sorrow of contrition until God makes him a new person, one who is able to relate to the Lord on such a level. Far from being interested in obeying God, the unsaved individual lives their life without regard toward the Commandments of the Lord.
If this is how the unsaved live their life, then what of the one who claims to be in Christ, yet lives the very same way? If there is little difference between their behavior, their actions, their conversations, their desires and those of the person who makes no such claim to be a Christian, are either of these people really saved? If no real difference exists between their lifestyle, does any difference exist between their conditions before God?
This is, of course, not for any of us to determine: whether or not another is truly in Christ. It is neither our prerogative nor our responsibility to validate the genuineness of the faith of someone else. These tests and indicators are not to be used to judge any other man’s status with the Lord, but they are invaluable for ascertaining our own. When we search our own heart, what do we find? Is our desire to please and obey the Lord Jesus Christ, or are we still living as we always have: with flagrant disregard for the Commandments of God and no compulsion to honor Him? If the heartfelt desire to obey God is absent in our lives, is not the Salvation that we claim to possess also?
I am not giving these sober warnings in order to needlessly frighten anyone. I do not suggest that any Christian who sins is not truly a Christian, as we saw above, everyone sins including the most devout believer. Many sincere Christians continue to struggle with the impulses and addictions that plagued them before they came to faith in the Lord. Are they not, therefore, saved because of this? Of course they are. Our Salvation is upheld by a far greater Power than our own ability to overcome our shortcomings. If our Salvation was contingent on our own ability to rid our lives completely of all that offends our God, our condition would remain as pitiful and hopeless as it was before the Lord saved us.
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
Our Salvation is accomplished by God and so is our Sanctification. What the Holy Spirit has begun in our lives, He will finish. God saves us from the penalty and guilt of our sin and He also saves us from the power that sin holds over us. While Salvation is accomplished in an instant – we become saved and our destiny forever changes the moment we first believe – Sanctification is an ongoing process that continues throughout our lifetime.
What Place Do Works Have?
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
It seems that there are two extremes to which many in the Church have gone: works are either stipulated as a requirement for Salvation, or else works are disregarded altogether. In our efforts to avoid the heretical fallacy of legalism, we have under-emphasized the role that “good works” do play in the Christian life. Attempting to make the point that our own works have no part in Salvation, we have unwittingly given some the impression that there exists no expectation of us to do anything even after we have been saved. We have inadvertently concluded that, since works do not save us, then what is the point of works?
In the verses of Ephesians 2:8-10, we have the clear cut Biblical formula for Salvation: we are saved by grace, through faith, unto good works. The order of these three factors is of the utmost importance. Faith does not precede grace, for Salvation begins, not in the heart of man, but with God. Works precede neither faith nor grace, for Salvation must be secured before works will have any merit.
The three prepositions tell us everything. By grace: Salvation comes from God. Through faith: our faith is the instrument securing God’s grace. Unto good works: works come after the Salvation part. It does not say anything about Salvation coming by good works or through good works, but good works are certainly what we are saved unto.
Verse 9 makes it clear that no man is saved by good works (as do so many other portions of Scripture, some of which we have already looked at), but Verse 10 makes it clear that good works are the “duty” of every believer. Good works do not save us, but that does not mean that they have no place in the life of the Christian. Our good works are not the currency which purchases Salvation, but they are the acts of worship and love that spring from the grateful heart that has been saved.